The assassin’s version

Despite having the flavour of a monograph and being sympathetic to Godse, here is an effort to document history

Published: 17th March 2018 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 17th March 2018 01:03 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

The blurb in this book describes Dr Koenraad Elst in this way. “His scholarly research findings earned him both laurels and ostracism.” That’s stating it mildly. Whether it is the “Out of India” theory or Ayodhya, his views are never mainstream. Rarely, if ever, are they fashionable.

He doesn’t always write in English. Indeed, this volume was also originally in Dutch. There is a foreword by Gautam Sen, which describes this as a “monograph”. Indeed, monograph is a good description.  

Mahatma Gandhi’s funeral

One-third consists of seven appendices. The core has six chapters (The Murder of Mahatma Gandhi and Its Consequences; Nathuram Godse’s Background; Critique of Gandhi’s Policies; Gandhi’s Responsibility for the Partition; Godse’s Verdict on Gandhi; Other Hindu Voices on Gandhi) and shorn of appendices and bibliography, it is actually a slim volume.

To quote from Gautam Sen’s foreword, “Godse’s condemnation for the murder of Mahatma Gandhi cannot detract from the extraordinary cogency of his critique of Gandhi’s political strategy throughout the independence struggle and a fundamentally misconceived policy of appeasing Muslims, regardless of long-term consequences.”  

That’s indeed the thrust of this interesting book, though many people will fail to distinguish between the two distinct points and will unnecessarily lambast it and the author, without having necessarily read it.
The book draws on Godse’s speech. “I expected mainstream publishers to be wary of publishing it (the book) as it cited most of Godse’s speech verbatim, and India’s ban on the publication of his speech had never formally been lifted.”  

In Koenraad Elst’s words, the Godse critique was the following. “(1) Gandhi’s non-violent agitation had but a limited action radius, he only used it on people with whom he shared a number of cultural and moral premises, viz. Hindus and liberal Britons. (2) The political success of Gandhi’s non-violent action was much more limited than is generally assumed (though more important than Godse was willing to admit).(3) In his policy of non-violence, Gandhi was erratic. (4) Gandhi made all sorts of appeasement gestures to please the Muslim League and the Muslim lobby inside Congress. (5) Gandhi flattered the Muslims and their religion endlessly. (6) Gandhi resolutely refused to learn anything from the feedback which political reality was providing.”  

Even if it is not always readily acknowledged or accepted, these arguments aren’t novel. The sixth chapter (Other Hindu Voices on Gandhi) underlines the point that Godse’s critique was not quite an outlier. The third, fourth and fifth chapters detail the critique. The second chapter (Nathuram Godse’s Background) cites facts to contest some unsubstantiated assertions made about Godse.

As a society, we should be mature enough to condemn the assassination, but accept the critique, even if we don’t always agree with it. To quote Godse, “My confidence about the moral side of my action has not been shaken even by the criticism levelled against it on all sides.”  

This book helps document India’s history better, though it is obviously sympathetic to Godse. It ends a bit tamely. The conclusion could have been better. It has the flavour of a monograph’s conclusion, not a book’s.

Dr Koenraad Elst

‘India has Never been a Secular Country’

Belgian orientalist and Indologist Dr Koenraad Elst tells Medha Dutta that Nathuram Godse’s views were not exceptional but what made him an extremist is that he took the consequence of wanting to kill Mahatma Gandhi

Your views are not mainstream. This book is an example of that.
I have not said anything I don’t mean. I have not tried to be sensational or a non-conformist. I just recorded what was there. This stuff may not be in school books today but I think that in 1947 the position that I record of Nathuram Godse’s was not that exceptional. And not just his own Hindutva constituency, but also many mainstream politicians—both Indian and foreign—who had to deal with Mahatma Gandhi had a fairly similar opinion.

This book celebrates Godse.
I don’t celebrate Godse. I just noticed that what he said was not as reprehensible as people now make of it. It was far more mainstream than people claim. And to some extent were more defensible than people claim. Gandhi had said: Partition will only happen over my dead body. But then he gave up on it. That is a failure. And given the weight of the failure in terms of human lives concerned, it was a very heavy responsibility. In noticing that fact, Godse was simply right.

You say that Gandhian mentality contributed to eruption of Hindu anger.
By his behaviour, by his promise to stop Partition and then not stopping it, Gandhi became the face of Partition. He had said he will never agree to it. It was only in June, 1947 that he crossed the floor and endorsed Partition.

Had he stuck to his stand on Partition, would this have happened?
That is impossible to say. He had already fasted unto death at least 15 times. Every time the other party had given in. But in this case, the other party might not have given in. And if Gandhi had died, there certainly would have been a lot of eruption of anger. But that would only have strengthened the hand of the Muslim League. And maybe Gandhi calculated that in this case his fasting unto death was useless.

According to your writings, India is not a secular country. Why?
It has never been a secular country. The Constituent Assembly had refused to call India a secular state. India became a secular, socialist republic in 1976. It is a defining characteristic of secular nations that all citizens are equal before the law regardless of religion. But in India there are personal laws. That’s simply not secular.

Would it have been a different India had Gandhi not been martyred?
Yes, of course. It would have had great consequences. Gandhi was preventing a no-nonsense policy as regards Pakistan. Also, the Hindu movement was growing rapidly before the killing happened. But overnight post the murder, the support was wiped out.


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